MONTAG with STARS , the ORGAN and WOODEN STARS as part of the Exclaim! 13th-anniversary cross-Canada tour at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), tonight (Thursday, April 14). $16. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Montag's ready to rock 'n' roll, motherfuckers.
While a little snotty Axl attitude never hurt anyone, I'm taken aback when giggly, soft-spoken Montrealer Antoine Bédard - best known as the indie savant who arranges strings for M83 and for his own sweet, quaintly retro-futuristic electronic pop dreamscapes - confesses he's put his sensitive side to rest and is ready to "get mad."
"I see music often as painting, but I think I put too much paint on my brush," Bédard happily chirps over the phone from Vancouver, where he's hanging out with his sweetie. "The colours on this album seem a bit too pastel to me.
"People even see the album as whimsical, happy music," he continues, "which I find so strange, because I was very sad at the time. It sounds like blacks and greys to me."
His new CD, Alone, Not Alone (Carpark) is a shimmering slice of indie electronica that evokes swirly translations of kitschy French cinema with beautifully fetishistic shots of, like, Brigitte Bardot and Catherine Deneuve sporting killer bouffants and thick black mascara.
The disc steps up Bédard's customary bedroom ambient noodling with layers of hazy, chopped-up orchestration and perfectly aloof vocal dialogues courtesy of Stars' Amy Millan, Bédard's pal Ariel Engle and Bédard himself, who conjures up the image of a more masculine version of Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier.
While songs like Perfect Vision, a boy-girl rainy-day pas de deux, sound like deceptively simple pop ditties, the recording process was way more involved than you'd think. Fed up with the hermit-like "bubble" he fell into after too much computer recording, Bédard decided to get out and meet people. He applied for an Arts Council grant to establish a sound bank, which he filled by recording real classical musicians at a slew of prestigious Montreal institutions.
"It was amazing experience cuz these people had no idea what I'd do with their sounds," he raves. "I had them play arpeggios, scales, runs - all sorts of things, and I'd save them. Now I have a whole bank of instrument noises that I can reuse, and because the sounds will always come from real instruments, they'll be beautiful and organic.
"For the next album, I'd love to use the same approach and record some classic rock instruments like guitars and drums, but chop it up so it doesn't sound like a traditional rock band."
Bédard says his background as a classically trained violinist had a huge effect on the album's sound, although he's still not entirely happy with how the mix turned out. He grumbles about the last-minute addition of vocals, which he still feels aren't balanced properly in the mix, and berates himself for getting a bit too overzealous with the layers.
"Nobody except me can really tell what's going on. It's like a mess of instruments. If I asked someone else to point out where the oboe is playing, they couldn't do it."
Despite the disembodied string orchestra on disc, Bédard says he's much happier playing his material when he has real bodies onstage with him. But he's already sick and tired of this album, which could be a problem since he's signed on to take the tunes from Alone, Not Alone on the road with Exclaim!'s annual cross-Canada tour.
"I don't get any excitement from playing live any more unless I have a girl onstage with me," he admits. "I try not to take myself too seriously, and I have to make lots of jokes onstage or else I want to quit."
Luckily, he's got built-in backup, since Millan's already on deck to play with his Exclaim! tourmates, Stars.
"She didn't sing with me in Vancouver cuz she was feeling nervous and said she wasn't comfortable enough with the words, but I'm gonna hold her to performing in Toronto.
"It would be pretty disturbing for me to play pre-recorded versions of her vocal parts and lip-sync along with them," Bédard laughs. "Hey! Maybe I could even go backstage and dress up like Amy, in drag. I bet it would increase my fan base."